By DeWayne Wickham
“Don’t wave a white flag, hoist the battle flag.”
That’s what Barack Obama should do in the wake of the drubbing Democrats got in the midterm congressional election. The president should ignore all the hand-wringing advice he’s getting from people who say he must move to the political center after Republican victories gave the GOP control of the House and narrowed the Democrats’ majority in the Senate.
Republicans won by making a hard turn to the right. They excited their base with nearly two years of legislative guerrilla tactics that frustrated the efforts of Democrats to get much done in Congress. They were buoyed by the Tea Party movement, whose call for spending cuts and smaller government resonated with middle-of-the-road voters who saw Congress’ Democratic majority as ineffective.
The lesson to be learned from this is not that Democrats should surrender to the right wing. It is that they should put up a better fight to move their agenda.
Instead of giving in to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $32 million on issue ads that demonized him — and stigmatized congressional Democrats who didn’t distance themselves from the president. Obama should urge wealthy supporters to create a fund from anonymous donors, much like the one the chamber amassed, to challenge GOP dogma.
Rather than kowtow to Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who said the GOP’s top priority should be to keep Obama from being re-elected, the president should put the Kentucky senator in his crosshairs. McConnell will have his hands full trying to keep newly elected Tea Party senators from undermining his leadership. Democrats should do everything they can to pour fuel on that simmering fire.
Of course there are those who would argue that if Democrats follow this course of action, Congress won’t get much done over the next two years. But that appears to be what McConnell has in mind anyway. Scuttling the Democrat’s’ legislative agenda will be a major of part of McConnell’s campaign to unseat Obama in 2012.
To win a second term, Obama must begin now to reinvigorate his base. He has to show voters who put him in the Oval Office that he’ll fight Republicans, not appease them. Moving to the center won’t do that. The political center is pipe dream, a swamp into which the GOP hopes to trap Democrats as it moves farther further to the right. On Election Day, those voters who claim to occupy the middle ground of American politics cast their lot with leftist Democrats or right-wing Republicans, not some centrist political party.
They align themselves with the party they believe has the best ideas and the ability to get something done. Over the past two years, Democrats wasted the victories they scored in 2008 with infighting and a penchant for retreating when Republicans attacked. So while the GOP rallied their its base, Democrats disappointed theirs.
The election results show that “no one party will be able to dictate where we go from here, that we must find common ground in order to set — in order to make progress on some uncommonly difficult challenges,” Obama said at his post-election press news conference.
He’s wrong. What the election results show is that voters will reward a party that fights tenaciously for what it believes — especially when the opposition waffles in the face of such a challenge and appears to reach for a white flag.